Demon reverses Bulger injunction for ISPs

In a landmark ruling, ISPs will be protected if customers break the injunction and name the Bulger killers on their service
Written by Wendy McAuliffe, Contributor

British telco Demon Internet has successfully challenged the High Court injunction protecting the identities of the boys who killed Jamie Bulger, meaning that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will not be liable if users post the boys' new names on their service.

Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss agreed on Tuesday that the injunction, which is designed to keep the new names and whereabouts of Robert Thompson and Jon Venables a secret, is "inappropriate" for ISPs.

The judge approved alterations to the amendment -- agreed by Demon lawyers acting for Venables and the attorney general -- which says that ISPs will not be in breach of the injunction if they take "all reasonable steps" to prevent publication of banned material.

"I do not think this is what I intended by my order," reiterated Butler-Sloss.

Venables and Thompson battered two-year-old Bulger to death in 1993, and were granted parole on 22 June after serving nine years of their sentence. The British press were banned from publishing recent photos of them.

Officials fear for the safety of Venables and Johnson, who have already received death threats, if their new identities become known.

Earlier on Tuesday, Thus -- the ISP arm of Demon Internet -- applied to the High Court for clarification of the scope of this injunction for ISPs, following fears that it could face a fine or jail sentence for liable content unknowingly posted by customers. Thus explained within a statement that "we fully appreciate the seriousness of the issues dealt with in the injunction and fully support the law in this matter...[but] we are concerned that we could be in the position where technically we are in contempt of court because of material published of which we have no knowledge."

Cyberliberty advocate Yaman Akdeniz claims that the judge's decision is unsurprising, once the anonymous nature of the Internet is taken into account. "I see no reason why third parties should be liable, as it is impossible for ISPs to check on and monitor half a million users," said Akdeniz, director of Cyber-Rights and Cyber-Liberties. "Clarity on the issue was needed as this is not a technical possibility."

But recent debates over the hosting of illegal child pornography on the Internet have created an unstable legal position for ISPs. In March, Thus embarked upon a moral crusade to take a more proactive approach in policing and removing paedophile content from newsgroups hosted by its servers. Akdeniz agrees that this argument has been reversed for contesting the James Bulger injunction.

"The whole issue is political -- an ISP's attitude depends on the nature of the content in question," argued Akdeniz. "ISPs haven't made up their minds on the legal position that they want to take."

See also: ZDNet UK's Net Crime News Section.

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